Nothing Happens – unless first we dream !

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

The title of this entry is a quote from Carl Sandberg, the second quote is by Anatole France. I found these when I was doing a little research for this post.

On Tuesday, I read an entry on Facebook that I thought would never be written. J Jeffrey Bragg of Seppala Kennels announced that he was shutting down his Seppala Siberian Sleddog Project and bringing an end to his concept of SSSD development. I’d put in some links here however Mr Bragg has removed all of the vast Project web presence (as is his right, it is his work after all) and besides, if you don’t already know all about the SSSD Project, it’s kind of late to be diving in now. He has stated on his kennel website that a detailed announcement will be published soon and I’m sure he will give a full and frank account of thoughts and reasonings.  His post on FB finishes with the line ” I’ve had enough proof now that it can never work. Not because of anything to do with the dogs; what’s lacking is enough of the right kind of people.”

I’m sure most people who read this know the story of Leonhard Seppala, his All Alaska Sweepstakes wins, the Serum Run, the New England race wins and his amazing dogs. It is these dogs that engendered an incredible legacy and found a devoted following amongst some. Names such as Ricker, Bryar, McFaul, Shearer and Wheeler owned, raced and developed these dogs from stock acquired from and/or bred by Seppala, as well as the last of the imported dogs from Siberia in the 30s. These dogs and their direct descendants were raced and bred through the decades competing against other Siberian huskies and increasingly, the ever popular  Alaskan husky. Within the closed confines of an AKC studbook, a small number of “pure” Seppala line dogs remained. As time passed, it seemed that few considered such a bloodline as being as “special” as it once was. Many historic Siberian husky kennels have Seppala dogs in their foundations and they all seem to be doing fine without restricting their breeding choices to a particular few dogs.

Jump forward to 1969, enter Jeff Bragg and his recently bought 10 year old dog, Ditko of Seppala. It was Ditko that sparked the flame into life that was to become the “Markovo Rescue project” – that saw Mr Bragg and his kennel partner track down, purchase and breed a group of wonderful dogs, the Markovo Seppalas. A few years later, having established what he felt was a sufficient core group of dogs, the Markovo dogs were sold on to a selection of similarly minded sled dog kennels that had expressed a desire to retain the Markovo lines. Of all the owners who bought dogs, only Doug Willett of Sepp-Alta Kennel followed through long term. Of course, if you know the history between Messrs Bragg and Willett, whether that is a good thing depends on where you’re sitting.

Mr Bragg’s life took a turn away from his beloved Seppalas and traveled, ending up in Spain. Mr Willett developed his Sepp-Alta Kennel into a formidable racing presence in the 80s and early 90s and bred, in his own words, over 100 performance based breedings, most of which were Seppala line based with some Siberian husky outcrosses and latterly, some Alaskan husky blood. It was these race successes that combined with the historic ties these dogs have that drew a new group of supporters. In the early 90s, Mr Bragg reappeared, still with the desire to ensure the long term survival of a distinct and identifiable Seppala bloodline dog. He once again set about identifying, buying and breeding dogs, based primarily upon direct descendants of his initial Markovo project dogs. He also acquired a male dog from Russia that was to play a huge part in his vision for his Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs. In 1997, following refusal of Canadian Kennel Club registration for this dog, he formed his own Registry, WCAC and worked with the Dept of Agriculture in Canada to have his SSSDs accepted as an “evolving breed”.

In 2002, after many internet exchanges, some very heated, a great many Seppala kennels travelled to Seeley Lake, Montana to attend the inaugural meeting of the International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club. We were there, and it was our first opportunity to meet both Mr Bragg and Mr Willett, as well the many others who had made the trip. Sadly, the weekend descended into chaos, the original aims of creating a body that would combine all Seppala supporters under one all inclusive umbrella fell a long way short of happening. In fact, history has shown us that it has achieved almost the exact opposite of those original lofty aims. Far from bringing everyone together, what eventually happened, in only a couple of years was a 3 way schism – we had the AKC registered Seppala bloodline Siberian huskies, the ISSSC Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs (the vast majority of whom were and still are ex AKC registered dogs or direct descendants of those dogs) and we had the WCAC Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs.

My rather long winded and hopefully, not too confusing, summation and quick history lesson (entirely unintended, I assure you – any errors of fact, dates etc etc are mine and are unintentional and I’m open to correction) leads me back to the start of this post – finally, I hear you say……………..

In the last year, Mr Willett has announced his retirement from the sled dog game, he has sold off most of his dogs and I believe has the last of his dogs up for sale just now. Mr Bragg’s announcement on Monday of the closure of the SSSD Project means that both of the main modern Seppala influences no longer will be breeding future Seppala dogs for those of us who have not only acted, but dreamed, not only planned, but believed.

Here at Gealach Mor, we have long been supporters of the SSSD Project, and greatly admired the most important element of the whole thing – the dogs themselves. Despite this, our efforts to become involved were always rebuffed.  This was and is a major source of disappointment to me and particularly when our move to Alaska would have, I had hoped, made access easier. However, it was not to be and we finally accepted this. To my immense pleasure, we were fortunate to be offered 2 of these Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs from a kennel that had managed to get dogs from Seppala Kennels but was finding family and financial pressures too great and this led them to rehome their dogs. Cuchi of Seppala and Dushka of Seppala arrived here in Feb 2010 and are everything I thought they would be. They are both a blessing and a heartache. They are a  joy to have here but they are also a reminder of what could have been, if only we had been the “right kind of people”.

The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings. (Bhudda)


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